November 25, 2020
Today Governor Wolf vetoed Senate Bill 790 — a bill the Pennsylvania Environmental Council (PEC) opposed due to its weakening of environmental and public health protections for conventional oil and gas operations. Most notably, Sb790 would have:
- Weakened Protection of Drinking Water
Existing law (Act 13 of 2012) ensures that if a conventional well operation disrupts or contaminate a private water supply, the operator is required to provide a replacement supply that meets the standards of the state Safe Drinking Water Act. Senate Bill 790 would have removed that requirement.
- Limited Financial Assurance for Well Remediation
Pennsylvania already faces a multi-billion legacy cost with hundreds of thousands of orphaned and abandoned wells scattered across the state. Senate Bill 790 placed arbitrarily limits bonding and other financial assurance measures required of the conventional industry, thus increasing the probability of another generation of remediation costs that would have be borne by the citizens of the Commonwealth.
- Limited Spill Reporting
Senate Bill 790 would have exempted the reporting of brine spills – of any volume – provided they were below 10,000 (mg/kg) total dissolved solids (TDS). Such spills are damaging to land and water resources; the exemption would have created a risk to groundwater and streams and increased the costs of site remediation.
- Weakened Well Integrity and Plugging Requirements
Senate Bill 790 relaxed well integrity, groundwater protection, and plugging and remediation standards. This runs counter to common industry practices already employed by the industry in Pennsylvania today.
- Reduced Public Engagement
Senate Bill 790 contained provisions that limited local government and public input on permitting.
Senate Bill 790 would have unraveled standards that have been in place and practiced by the industry for decades. If this bill had been allowed to pass into law, Pennsylvania would have had the discreditable distinction of being a state that walked back standards for oil and gas operations.
There is a misconception that current law does not allow for different sets of rules for the conventional oil and gas industry. This is not true. Act 13 of 2012 clearly differentiated, by definition and throughout its provisions, protections required of the conventional versus unconventional industry. Regardless, the state legislature has already passed legislation that further bifurcates proposed rulemakings; and even required the Department of Environmental Protection to restart a proposed rulemaking in consultation with a conventional industry advisory board. The Department is now working with that advisory board to craft revised standards. After nearly a decade since passage of Act 13, Senate Bill 790 would have again forced a restart to the process, while also dramatically lowering the standards applied to the industry. In the end, this would have only meant that the citizens of the Commonwealth would continue to disproportionately bear the risks and costs of industry actions.
PEC believes there is an opportunity to craft efficient standards for the conventional industry, but Senate Bill 790 did not represent that outcome. As such, we commend the Governor’s veto of this legislation.